Interview: Armin Shimerman On ‘What We Left Behind’ And How ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ Tried Harder

(Photo: Shout! Studios)

On Monday May 13th, the documentary What We Left Behind all about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine will hit US and Canadian theaters in a one-night event. TrekMovie has spoken to members of the cast and producers about what we can expect from the documentary and about their time on DS9. Today we start with our interview with Armin Shimerman, who played the Ferengi bartender, Quark, for seven seasons.

Starting with What We Left Behind, what are you hoping that people will take away from seeing this documentary?

What I think they will get and hope they take away, is the amount of love that was put into the show. I know love is a word that is overused, but it really is part and parcel of what we did and not just love, but hard work. Because were the “middle child” as we used to say, we worked that bit harder. The other shows – at least from my understanding – they tended to have a good time on their sets. They fooled around and had practical jokes and kidded each other. There wasn’t a lot on our show because we came to work. We came to do the very best Star Trek that we could. There used to be a commercial on TV: “We’re Avis, we have to try harder.” I think that is a lot of what we were doing; we were trying harder. And I think that comes through in the documentary.

In the documentary, when talking about this “middle child” of Star Trek notion, you used the word “hurtful.” Can you expand on that, are there examples of hurtful things done or said?

It was not hurtful in the sense of “oh my god, I was devastated by that.” Here is a simple example. People would say: “What are you doing now, Armin?” And I would say: “I’m doing Star Trek.” And they would say: “Is that the one with the bald captain?” And I would say: “No, it’s the one with the black captain” and they would get glassy-eyed. And I would say: “Really? Obviously, you know about the Picard character, but you don’t know about ours?” That’s hurtful in the sense that you are being ignored. You know what it is like to be in a group of people and you are not being treated as an equal. That was hurtful. Again, not terrible – not something you would tell your therapist about – but, to be thought of as second best or not even to be considered at all, that was hurtful.

From What We Left Behind: Nana Visitor, Armin Shimerman, Nicole de Boer and René Auberjonois at Variety Magazine DS9 25th Anniversary photo shoot (Shout! Studios)

And according to what you said in the documentary, you believe the reality is the other way around. Why do you believe Deep Space Nine to be the superior show compared to the two that preceded it?

I think we dealt more with human issues. The two shows that came before us were wonderful shows and I am a big fan of both. But, they were about solving problems on other worlds. Yes, they dealt with social issues, which is what Star Trek has always been about. But there was relatively little – there were some – but relatively little stories about family and about personal agendas, about maturing, and about the things that make up humans, that make up people.

And I believe our coming out from behind the cloud in the last couple of years, we don’t seem dated. We are still dealing with truth. Although we shot this stuff 20 years ago, they are as important today as they were then. It is not so much about saving a world from itself, but finding out how a person can grow from their experiences.

You actually had some experience in Star Trek before DS9, being in the first episode of TNG that introduced the Ferengi, which most believe didn’t go well. You stated that one of your goals for DS9 was to rehabilitate the Ferengi. Do you believe that mission was accomplished?

From my point of view, yes, and from all the kind things that have been said about the Ferengi as opposed to what I did – and primarily it was my mistakes – in that first episode of TNG. But the rehabilitation wasn’t all me. It certainly had to do with Aron [Eisenberg]’s portrayal of Nog, Max [Grodénchik]’s portrayal of Rom, with Cecily [Adams]’ portrayal as Moogie. All of those actors together helped rehabilitate this particular culture, and of course, we couldn’t have done it before without the writers, who created all those stories. I think we did rehabilitate the race and I take full responsibility for the race being founded on such weak premises.

Armin Shimerman in Star Trek: The Next Generation “The Last Outpost”

[Showrunner] Ira Steven Behr told me that when he signed on for the show he wasn’t too keen on it involving the Ferengi and that it wasn’t until he saw the dynamic between Quark and Rom in one of those first episodes, that he realized it is a story about brothers. Is that special fraternal chemistry something you and Max worked on developing?

I don’t know if we worked on it, but it certainly came up. As you hear about in the documentary, we rehearsed at my house often for my scenes and Max’s scenes and the other Ferengi episodes. And because we worked out our relationship at my house, off the set, that romance, that brotherly relationship grew not only at work but at my house as well. Though we weren’t working on it per se, it was an outgrowth of that work. And Max – who has the greatest heart in the world – as I began to understand, I began to appreciate him more. On the page, I was constantly yelling at him. But I came to realize, how can you yell at this really loving human being, and began to both yell at him and love him at the same time. It is sort of the relationship people have with their siblings. You love them, but they can push buttons.

There were a lot of those Ferengi-focused episodes, many of which are fan favorites. But because the show was dark, sometimes these Ferengi episodes were used to lighten things up as balance. Ira has said he may have relied too much on you guys for comic relief. Was that something you felt, or even expressed at the time?

Sometimes I felt that one or two episodes were a little too saccharine, a little too sweet, a little too comic without a point to it. I have made no secret of how the episode called “Profit and Lace” was difficult to do and even more difficult to watch. It seemed like a gag that went on too long. And it wasn’t that I was playing a woman. I had done that before and that is a challenge and a delight. But, my character learned nothing from the experience.

So, sometimes yes, I think that is a possibility. But, for those few episodes that were less than perfect, there were so many episodes where I got to do things that I never expected to do as Quark when I first signed on. There were some really touching, wise speeches and episodes where I was learning and perhaps teaching other people.

Are there any particular episodes in that vein that stand out for you?

One would be [“The Siege of AR-558”]. That is a phenomenal contraposition to “Profit and Lace.” Another earlier one called “Move Along Home” was the beginning of looking at Quark’s depth. When I did that episode, I thought there was a possibility that this character will not simply be a two-dimensional comical character.

Armin Shimerman in the DS9 season one episode “Move Along Home”

It was noted in the documentary that two of the Ferengi characters had these incredible arcs, especially Nog who started as Jake’s friend and ended up in Starfleet, plus the whole thing of losing his leg. And you had Rom getting married and even ending up Nagus…

Not to mention – and it is really important – how he got out from under the thumb of Quark. Quark commanded him for the first couple of seasons and eventually, he stood up to me and that was a great transitional thing for him, as well.

So, how did you feel about Quark’s arc through the series, including how they left things at the end with Quark sort of back where he started in his bar?

That is a very interesting question, and I will try to answer as best as a I can. Up until that final episode, I was a little deflated I didn’t think my character had matured or changed as much as some of the other characters. When I got to that episode when they asked me to sort of think about going back to where I had started, the amount of change I had not been aware of was suddenly obvious to me, and I was enormously gratified by that. It was one of the great gifts that the writers gave me, to make me see clearly how far my character had come, even though I hadn’t been aware of it over the years.

Armin Shimerman as Quark in DS9 finale “What You Leave Behind”

How to watch the documentary

As previously announcedWhat We Left Behind makes its one-day-only theatrical debut on May 13 in the US and Canada. Tickets are still available through Fathom Events.

What We Left Behind theatrical event poster

Keep up with all the updates and news on the DS9 documentary in our What We Left Behind category here at

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I’m really looking forward to seeing this in Times Square on Monday.

Any news on international availability of the Doco?

In Canada Cineplex is carrying it in some theaters. I’m hoping to go see it in Niagara falls on Monday.

For those in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) north of the border, I did a quick look and at least six theatres will be showing What We Left Behind beginning on Monday the 13th, with Canada Square North York, Winston Churchill Mississauga and the Yonge Dundas downtown theatres all showing it multiple times throughout the week including Saturday May 18th. The Queensway in Etobicoke, theatres in Vaughn and on Eglington are also showing it on May 13th. Looking forward to checking this out and learning a lot more about DS9.

I am doing a DS9 rewatch when I heard the documentary was going to hit theaters and thought it was a great ‘excuse’ to maybe start from the beginning and see if I can watch the whole series in time for the documentary on the 13th. I am currently on season 5 now and man I KEEP forgetting just how many amazing stories this show has. I been watching it since 1993 and this is probably my fifth official run through of the show and there are still episodes I have completely forgotten about over the years I’m rediscovering again and just love it.

I just watched ‘Nor the Battle of the Strong’ a few days ago which was the fifth season episode of Bashir and Jake going to help a Federation colony under Klingon attack and I forgot just how amazing that story was. How it showed the brutality of war and how hard it is to face it upfront when you’re not use to being on the front lines. It was great and yet its considered just a middle of the road episode for that show because they did so many moving and heartfelt episodes its hard to keep up. THIS is how the Klingon war should’ve been presented on Discovery and not the bland and almost nonexistent way it was done.

DS9 just did something no other Star Trek show attempted to do and that was to show all sides and layers of both the heroes and the enemies. We may get an episode from TOS or TNG that did something like that showing more grey situations but it never lingers like it does on DS9. We never got the arcs from other shows like DS9. Watching Gul Dukat’s turn after turn is amazing. One episode you want to hate him, the next one after that you want to love him. You know deep down he’s bad, but he’s so charming and layered you actually feel for him a lot of times. He looks like he is actually trying to do the right thing in many episodes but you’re not sure if its always sincere or not. His arc was one of the best character studies ever done.

Quark is another great example. He is a comic character but the character is defined so well you really grow to love him even when there are questionable things about him. And that’s what is more interesting about him, because he wants to be devious and greedy but he actually does have a heart and cares about people. He is sexist and looks down on human values but he’s open to everyone and always tries to be fair…in his own way. He’s a lot of fun to watch and I agree with Shimmerman, too many Quark episodes feel too extra comical but he shines in all of them.

I can make entire essays about pretty much every character on this show, it speaks to the amazing character development and writing. Even characters like Dr. Bashir who I initially hated grew to be beloved because you saw how much the character matured and went from a arrogant but naive (but incredibly smart) officer to a more nuanced character and became a beacon of Federation values and always strived to help anyone in need.

DS9 has been my favorite Star Trek show for the last 20 years. It took so many risks and so much of it paid off. I’m not sure if there will ever be a show to replace it unfortunately. We need more shows like this again in the future. We may get it with Picard but I’m not holding my breath.

^^ What Tiger2 said…

Very well said. It is certainly the best of the spinoff shows. As you said, it’s one thing to take risks. But DS9 took risks and they paid off! And here is the thing about the characters. I really didn’t care for any of them save perhaps for Sisko. But over a couple of seasons every single one of them won me over. EVERY ONE. There was so much depth and fantastic story lines there. The way they handled nearly everything the people at Discovery ought to be embarrassed. I never expected Discovery to be DS9. That’s not fair. But I did think it ought to at least be Voyager level stories. This is not to say there were turd episodes in it. There were. Every show has them. But overall, DS9 set the latinum standard for ST spin off shows.

Great review Tiger2. When I first watched the pilot and after seeing Sisko as a Commander and not a Captain and someone who disliked Picard, I didn’t bother watching much of the show when it was a first run series. I am glad there was a lull after Enterprise because it gave me reason to go back and watch every episode and I completely changed my mind about DS9. It is easily one of my favorites and it might rank right up near the top. Really looking forward to seeing WWLB.


How can he take full responsibility for that? Was it his idea to move around like some kind of monkey person? Either way, he wasn’t responsible for the script.

I think perhaps he thought he could have fought the writers and producers more to change that appearance of the Ferengi, but at this point I don’t think even the producers and writers didn’t know who the Ferengi really were.

It’s not as if he had any leverage at that point. They could have just replaced him.

I actually liked that the Ferengi had weird alien movements like that. It did not, however, line up with the fearsome race they were made out to be in the previous episodes.

Although I really enjoyed Next Generation, DS9 was a better show. It presented the grittier side of life compared to the always squeaky clean Federation. Plus, it gave me something that I had wanted from the beginning and that Next Gen had cruelly teased me with only to let me down big time.
Fleet Battles. Not just a couple of ships going at it, but hundreds of all different types and races. The last two seasons, especially. It was glorious.

I sat in Armin’s trailer interviewing the Rom and Lita actors, Max and Chase. He had lent it to Max for the interview. Having spent much time on the set, I’m sad that of all the actors, I never met Armin. He’s so thoughtful and intelligent. Having seen him work under all that make up and bring this character to life was a highlight as he was my fav character of the series.

DS9 continues to be my favorite Trek series, very much top tier. Sucks I’ll be traveling on the 13th….

I’m just getting back into DS9 for the first time since the series ended and man it’s still just as good as was back in the day. Best convention ever was a DS9 convention in Pennsylvania, saw Nana Visitor and Rene Auberjonois do Love Letter, an awesome play, on Saturday Night and later in the evening when I and a couple I brought with me got drunk with Robert O’Reilly, who played Klingon Chancellor Gowron. Best convention ever!

The awful Ferengi episodes are “fan favorites”? “Move Along Home” is an example of DS9’s best work? (This is the episode where they play some life-size board game and keep chanting “Alamarain,” right?)

Sorry, this kind of talk is why I’m not on board with this “DS9 is the Best.Trek.Evah” mantra.

Totally agree with you. I don’t like the smug arrogance above that is so very typical of the DS9 crowd, this “we were unloved but we were better!” Show some humility and let the viewers decide! And DS9 is not above criticism, not at all. The terrible ferengi episodes, the endless soap opera, the lack of exploration, the descent into pseudo-religious fantasy. Yes, compared to Discovery it is Shakespeare. But then again, every Trek show is.

There’s nothing wrong with you not liking a thing or prefering one thing over another, but creative people being proud of the work they did is not “smug arrogance.”

It’s like going up to a couple at the end of a children’s talent show and saying “What are you stupid? Your son wasn’t the best. Jimmy Krakhauser was the best.” That might be your opinion, that may even be true, but nobody should fault the parents for loving their kid the best.

I wouldn’t expect VS to understand the concept of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, ironically.

IDIC is about peaceful co-existence, not the inherent superiority of one idea over others. I was commenting on the claim of superiority for DS9 which is not backed up by any objective facts (subjective opinion, as you elaborated more thoughtfully below), and THAT I called smug arrogance, not dismissing DS9’s right of existence. So who hasn’t understood IDIC here?

You don’t come off as tolerant as you think you do…

You missed my point. I didn’t with start calling a show “superior”. TNG was more successful, which is a measurable and objective metric.

We get it, you don’t like Star trek. 😜

So you are claiming to speak for all fans and you are saying only DS9 is true Star Trek? All fans must like DS9 and worship its inherent superiority, if you don’t like it, you can’t like Star Trek. Thanks, that was exactly my point ;)

A lot of fans have decided, myself included, and we agree. DS9 sought to challenge Roddenberry humans, and in doing so, led more credence to the idea that we can one day be as good as them. They made mistakes, they fell, but they got back up, and lent on each other to do so. It wasn’t always about doom and gloom, and it’s war stories were about the people in it, rather than the war tactics and battles every week.

It’s not a boy’s club that excludes everyone except three people like TOS.
It’s not a perfect world like TNG.
It didn’t hit a reset button every week like VOY.
It wasn’t neglectful of main cast members like ENT.
It wasn’t as dark and dramatic as DSC.

It made Star Trek feel like a place you can live a full life, in a way no other Trek show or movie has done since.

For me, and for a lot of fans, it’s the epitome of Trek. I also get why people love every Star Trek show, even though I don’t agree.

TOS was ground-breaking
TNG was thoughtful and, often, well-executed drama
VOY was more of what people liked in TNG and TOS, exploring the unknown with the added drama of being far from home.
ENT became focused with the intent of bridging the gap between our world and Trek’s.
DSC is trying to bring Trek into the 21st century with a focus on inclusivity and a serialized format.

Whoever you are, whatever you love, is right.

Please don’t dismiss us for liking a show you don’t.

As I elaborated, I didn’t dismiss the show, but conflating the criticism of claimed objective superiority with right of existence is saying more about my point than you’d like to. For that matter, I liked your second list a lot better than your first. How about including DS9’s failings in your first one? Because every show had pros and cons and thus appeals to different viewers, different personalities. To say THIS show, that always had a niche following and no movies, no spin-offs, no sequels (TNG had all of these), was superior for the majority of fans is hubris.

I had more typed, with more to say, but I’m going to leave it with this: I think I’m right, you think you’re right. Leave it there.

That’s a pity, I think discussing DS9’s failings has merit. I have seen several professional reviewers call it a “trial run” for RDM’s BSG, and I can see the logic in that. I am glad that RDM unlike certain other (current) Trek writers ultimately understood that his vision is best executed outside the confines of the Trek universe and that he shouldn’t keep trying in vain to change Trek into something it is not. Clearly his masterpiece was all the better for it.

News flash….the DS9 crowd are viewers. It’s okay if the show isn’t to your liking, that doesn’t diminish that it’s among Treks best.

“Among Treks best” != “Better than all the others”

I appreciate you moving the goalpost though ;)

You mean like the arrogance of all the ToS and TNG fanboys who would say DS9 wasn’t “real Star Trek”. They were the arrogant ones.

I think you might have misunderstood. Armin liked “Move Along Home” because it was the first time Quark’s depth was realized. I personally thought the episode was pedestrian at best. But he had his personal reasons for thinking well of it.

I took it the same way as you did ML31.

Shimmerman seems to be saying that Quark wasn’t all that rich a character up to that point, but the life and death stakes in the episode offered a glimpse at richer layers.

Many of the first season episodes were not the best in fact.

The writers were working off the Bible and hadn’t really figured out what to do with the station setting. TNG characters were used as guests to pull in viewers.

What can I say. Working for Quark was an unforgettable period in my life. I really enjoyed every moment. The people and the stories were amazing.

Broik is the true unsung hero of DS9!

Less Brunt! More Broik!

When I consider all of the ST universe, I always think back to DS9 as my absolute favorite, I just enjoyed it immensely and never missed a single episode. Thank all of you for your lasting hard work.

DS9 was – and is – an outstanding show. the stories, the characters, the actors, the sets … great stuff. 20 years later and nothing is outdated. Best Trek show i.m.h.o. would love to have a real ds9 revival sometime.

DS9 and Discovery are easily my favorite Trek shows. I love them all, even have a new appreciation for Enterprise but yea those are my two favorites.

Ranking the Trek shows for me…

1. TOS
2. DS9
3. Enterprise
4. TNG
5. Voyager
6. Discovery

Although after rewatching Voyager for the first time I think it might belong at #4. I plan on rewatching TNG for the first time when I finish Voyager. Maybe I will change my tune seeing the show again.

For me:

1. DS9
2. TNG
3. TOS
4. DSC
5. VOY
6. ENT

I think the great thing about Trek is how good it gets upon rewatch. My wife is a HUGE Voyager fan, and I kind of hated it, but when we watch episodes together, I find a newer appreciation for them. Whether that’s my wife’s influence or my older self appreciating things my teenage self didn’t, It moved up on my list!

My list:

1. DS9
2. TNG
3. TOS
4. VOY
5. ENT
6. DIS

And I agree with you Mark! One of the things about Trek is that the shows seem to mostly get stronger in time on rewatches, at least for me. Of course that doesn’t mean everyone and yes some of the shows do feel dated naturally, but the stories themselves still feel really strong. Enterprise was the perfect example. I really felt bored by a lot of it when I originally watched it, but now really love most of the episodes. Yes its still pretty low on my list overall but I like the show a lot now. I don’t hate any of them. DIS (obviously) still has a long way to go for me, but it improved a lot in season 2. Maybe with season 3 being essentially a completely different show and going forward (like very forward lol) again will make me a much bigger fan of it (especially since one of the things I felt holding it back was being a prequel) but I suspect in a few years I might appreciate it more than I do now.

I agree. For some reason rewatching a show after a long absence they seem better than I remember. I recall loving DS9 and rewatching it for the first time 6 years ago only reinforced that. Been rewatching Voyager the last year and have ended up liking it more than I recall. I actually own seasons 3 & 4 of Enterprise and haven’t watched the first 2 seasons since they aired. I plan on rewatching TNG next. There are a few episodes I’ve seen more than once but nearly all of them I’ve only seen the one time. I’m hoping that rewatch will give me a better perspective of it like the others.

Here’s a question to ask yourself: which Star Trek series would you actually want to live on? Not act in, but actually be in that world, on that ship/station with those people?

For me, it is DS9. And not just because of the shops and restaurants on the promenade, but because of the characters. They just FEEL real, more than any other Trek show. I love that world and enjoy watching those stories.

BTW: I did get to eat at Quark’s at the Star Trek Experience before it closed. It was great. Those sets are amazing.

The Experience was my favorite place in the world before it closed. I felt like I was home.

Fascinating. I am very excited to see this thing. If I don’t make that Monday showing I definitely am buying it when it comes out on BD.

And one other thing. The instant this show comes out in HD I’m buying it. (if that ever happens)

For those in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) north of the border, I did a quick look and at least six theatres will be showing What We Left Behind beginning on Monday the 13th, with Canada Square North York, Winston Churchill Mississauga and the Yonge Dundas downtown theatres all showing it multiple times throughout the week including Saturday May 18th. The Queensway in Etobicoke, theatres in Vaughn and on Eglington are also showing it on May 13th. Looking forward to checking this out and learning a lot more about DS9.

I’m real upset with you @Trekmovie for it being the 10th anniversary of one of the most important films in franchise history but it’s after noon already and you still haven’t posted anything in celebration. Come onn I want to share my memories of this day ten years ago! >:(

I remember being not too sure about he upcoming DS9 series but it ended up being my 2nd favorite series after TOS.

Stan The Caddy!

Do a Google Search for Fathom Events and it should show you a theatre that’s going to have the documentary on Monday. I hope everyone will be able to see it, but I guess if you can’t it will be out on DVD eventually?

As for DS9, it’s a Trek I go back to again and again. What Tiger and Marc Calgano said here pretty much sums up my feeling about the show. As a woman I particularly loved Kira and Jadzia and later, Kasidy Yates for being enthusiastic, individual, sometimes feisty [in other words well-rounded] characters.

I just … I could write an essay too but you guys expressed everything pretty well!

Just a heads up to everyone, even though originally it was promoted as a “one night only” event, up here in Toronto some theatres are showing it for several days next week while others are limiting it only to Monday, the 13th.

I didn’t mind Ezri much either, considering she was supposed to be fairly young (can’t remember her rank). I am sure her character would developed significantly if the show had lasted beyond 7 seasons.